Leisure Is For Everyone

Written by 
Linda G. Smith, M.A.
Licensed Professional Counselor
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
A former Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist

While sitting with her mom, eight-year-old Katie sighed, “I wish it would storm!”  Her mother asked why she would say such a thing.  Katie said, “When it stormed, the lights went out.  We all stopped.  We couldn’t do nothing but sit all close with the flashlight.  I remember daddy taking the light and put it in the middle.  He started telling a story and we just laughed and laughed.  Storms make people laugh, right, Mommy?” Her mother thought how smart Katie was.  She had observed that her family had a pattern of  coming and going and missing special time with each other.  Her family didn’t have time to have fun.

Mary was hired to work the 9 to 5 shift.  That was two years ago.  She stopped to think how something was very wrong.  Mary worked 9-10 hours a day for about three days a week.  She had been told that  there would be a 40-hour work week.  She was stressed and worn-out.  Mary complained to her boss.  He told her she could have compensation time, but her job was so busy that there wasn’t any way to take off.  Due to her stress, Mary considered going in to ask the doctor why she wasn’t sleeping and was fatigued.  She knew that she definitely was burn-out and needed some rest and recreation.

Danny had his office at home.  He didn’t have any real office hours.  He frequently worked in two shifts through the morning and in the evening after his wife and kids came home.  Since he was at home, there was always something that needed to be done.  He liked helping by doing the laundry, running errands, or starting dinner.  Sometimes his father called and asked for a ride to the doctor’s office.  That trip usually took three hours of his day.  Danny also found himself  becoming more out of sorts.  He couldn’t focus on his work and he was getting behind.  He noticed that he didn’t have any interest in working out at the gym or in the garden which he loved to do.  His wife and kids complained that he was not fun to be with.

What do these people have in common?  They have a problem that involves their leisure.  What is leisure?  It can be explained as an attitude, a state of mind, and time.  

Leisure is freedom, being free from obligations.  Even during the time of early man, after the struggle of survival (finding food, shelter, clothing and protecting one’s self from enemies) there was some free time.  Today, we tend to have more time than ever before. When we really think about it, there are 1440 minutes in a 24 hour day.  How much time do we get to carve out for leisure?  The person who must work a full-time and part-time job to make ends meets doesn’t have a lot of leisure. Parents who both are employed and are raising a family may ask, “Can we get some more minutes in a day?”  Plato once said, “In work, man makes a living, in leisure man makes a life?”  As an attitude, a person can creatively plan to include leisure into he or her life.  And it might take some serious out-of-the-box thinking to carve out leisure time.

Some people think of leisure only as free time, time away from work and some go as far to describe it as “spare time.”  This type of thinking reminds me of “spare” as in a spare time, something that’s only used when needed.  This way of thinking can be limiting for the individual.  

Free time activities can be unsatisfying and stressful, particularly if participation is just to occupy one’s time.  This concept was best described in the February 1990 Glamour magazine.  “We wait all week for Saturday to come and moan that we never get enough free time, but surprisingly, we’re happier at work than at play, claims Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Chicago.  Dr. Csikszentmihalyi studies ‘flow state,’ or the experience of being engrossed in and satisfied by an activity for its own sake.  He supplied 107 test subjects with electronic pagers for one week; whenever he beeped them, they wrote down what they were doing and how they felt.  Dr. Csikszentmihalyi found that people at work reported being “in flow” about half of the time; at leisure only 18 percent of the time.  Why then do people at work usually report wanting to be somewhere else?  Dr. Csikszentmihalyi  speculates that we’re accustomed to thinking of work as an obligation and leisure time as freedom. ‘But for most people, free time doesn’t really feel that good,’ he says.  Structuring our leisure time better—spending more of it as a participator rather than an observer…encourage flow states and cure the weekend blahs.”

According to John Neulinger, leisure is “being at peace with one’s self and with what one is doing.”  Leisure is defined as a state of mind and gives a person opportunities for personal satisfaction, relaxation, and to free the mind from day-to-day problems.

We also confuse the words recreation and leisure.  These two words are not synonymous.  Recreation is best defined as an activity that one engages in order to achieve personal satisfaction.  Along with participation in an activity, there is the freedom of choice in how we desire to leisure.

Are there any real benefits from having leisure and recreational experiences?  Howard and Compton in 1980 gave a listing of the possible benefits of leisure participation.  This list included social interaction with other, with mastery of a particular brought recognition from peers, excitement, a desire to be successful, achievement, a desire to be in a group, security and connectedness with others, mental relaxation, getting knowledge, and happiness.

Katie’s family, Mary, and David had some problems recognizing the importance of leisure.  Someone said that leisure is for everyone.  If you take the first letter of those underlined words, then it spells LIFE.  What they need is to put some leisure back into their lives.

Whether you think that leisure is free time, a state of mind, or an attitude, it is an important life domain. Katie wished for a storm to stop and slow down her family so they could play together.  Mary had to figure out a way to rest and play as hard as she worked.  David was great at making things better for others, but he forgot that he needed some attention, too.  Leisure is a good prescription for them.  

Leisure is for everyone. When we balance our lives and structure our leisure time with spectator and participant-oriented experiences, then there’s much value and benefit.  Isn’t it time that we all put leisure into our lives?

Edginton, C., & Ford, Phyllis.  Leadership in Recreation and Leisure Service Organizations.  New your:  John Wiley & Sons, l985.

Gillespie, Glenn (ed.).  Leisure 20000:  Scenarios for the Future.  Columbia, MO:  Curators University of Missouri, 1983.

“Why Free Time Doesn’t Feel Good.”  Glamour, February 1990

Neulinger, John.  “On Leisure.”  Behavior Today, April 1974

June 2007Linda G. Smith, M.A.

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